29 September 2006


Makes me think of U2.
I was going to write a profound post about how writing confronts my pride in all forms, how my motivations are never truly pure (and hopefully never truly selfish). I was going to write to you about George. George is how I describe myself when my pride inverts to self-doubt. I compare, compare, compare. Let's be honest, I want to look good. Nothing against the name George. We have a fish named George. Chris calls him Blue Fish #1, but his name is George. My George is the "Which way did he go, which way did he go, George?" Dazed and confused. Downright scared that someone will think awful thoughts of me, like, man, what made her think she can write? Which means I'm focusing on pats on the back rather than following God and serving Him and loving others.
Good thing I'm not writing about that today.
Instead, I'm going to give you my October goals list. I've actually never had a montly goals list. Heck, I don't think I've ever had a goals list period. But here it is.
1. Finish my novel (which means putting the sheetrock on the frame and painting it; I'm okay if I still need to hang pictures and set-up furniture).
2. Polish a flash fiction entry for ACFW newsletter submission.
3. Send a short story to a journal.
4. Memorize all the words to La Vie Boheme from Rent. I'm about 95% of the way there. This is perhaps the most important goal on the list.
5. To learn Chopin's Grand Valse Brilliante on piano.

There you have it. You know, I don't like lists. In fact, looking at this makes me nervous. What if I can't do one or the other? And putting this here for all the world to see makes me feel naked. What if I submit and they say, yucky, yucky, yucky. Then someone asks, hey, did you submit? Then I have to lie. No, I didn't.
But I also want you to ask me about these things. Because I like to sit at my computer and write. I don't like to submit. Takes too much work.

27 September 2006

Lessons from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Dentist Elf

Long post today, guys. Sorry. I wrote this about a year ago. Something Michelle said Monday reminded me of this. I still feel this way.

I feel like Rudolph and the dentist elf. They didn’t fit in because either they were born different or they strove to be something unexpected. Whoever heard of a red-nosed reindeer or an elf dentist? Even those who loved them most tried to change these anomalies, tried to hide them, or just flat out rejected them. So they ran away. To be honest, most days I want to runaway.
I grew up in a conservative church with strong, faithful parents. I grew up with Bible verses singing in my head, never knowing what it meant to not believe in Christ. And when I say I grew up in the church, I mean I grew up in the church. I lived and breathed the church. My closest friends were from my church. My family was the church.
Perhaps because of this strong foundation I have, I am free to question. Not question God or Who He is. Not question my salvation, my peace and joy, my hope in Christ. But I question how we understand this. How we understand the Bible. How we understand the world around us. How we are in the world but not of it. How we do this whole spirituality thing. And because of this questioning, sometimes I don’t feel accepted by my church family. Sometimes I feel pushed out. Sometimes I feel like this church family sees me as lost. Sometimes I feel unloved. Sometimes I feel like a misfit.
What do you do when you feel knocked down? Especially when the slaps and jeers come from the church, from your own “body”? Sometimes I feel beaten to a bloody pulp by the church – never mind the Levites and priests that pass by on the other side of the road. At least they don’t kick you while you’re down! Where do you go when you feel outside the wall? And if I, who grew up inside the wall, talking the language, laughing at the “why did the Christian cross the road” jokes, understanding the ritual, if I feel outside the wall, how much more so those who aren’t believers or who are new believers?
So most of the time I fight. But that is my community. I live one way. They live another way. Both of us are trying to live according to our understanding of God’s Story. Somehow both fit into that proverbial “gray area,” so perhaps it’s not about right v. wrong. Perhaps it is about love and acceptance, about trust and authenticity. I love U2. So many of their songs speak to me about Christian life and our hope. One tells me about the Christian community, the hopelessly-flawed but chosen by God Church. U2 says that we can’t live with or without each other. U2 says that we give, and we give, and we give ourselves away. That’s what being in community is. It means that struggle of frustration and love with the Church. It means giving ourselves away to the Church. These are my decisions. I may be constantly hurt by the Church. I may feel that my life is easier without the Church, but to act on those selfish – yes, selfish – feelings would be to go against God’s Truth told in the letter to the Ephesians. The Church should be about unity, love, compassion. Somehow, God wants me to be unified to a group of people I feel little to no natural inkling toward in order that together, we can incarnate God’s love in the world. For some reason, this is how God chose to do it. I don’t like it. Oh, I want authenticity, but I want it with my chosen people rather than God’s chosen people. How many times was Christ hurt by His intimate group of friends, even by the three that seemed to be His best friends? But He devoted His life to them. He gave Himself away. I’m to have the same attitude as Christ. Yuck. I want my time, my space, my choosing. But I have to love. I’m not called to seek acceptance in this Church that views some of me as borderline heretical. I’m to love.
I know how the story of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer ends. They find a whole Misfit Kingdom. They want to live in this misfit kingdom where they know they will be accepted, but the Misfit Lion King (is Jesus a misfit, too?) asks them to go back in the world to find a place for all of the misfits. They do. They risk their lives to go back. They found that a few who truly loved them went after them. They saved the day by pulling the teeth of a threatening enemy and breaking through a dark storm with the only reliable light. And they found a place for all of the other misfits. I know I have to go into the uncomfortable. Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to fix some painful teeth when I ensconce myself in the world, in the church, in a seemingly meaningless job. Maybe I’ll find a loyal Cornelius in my travels who will understand me and accept me. Maybe I’ll find that those in the church do truly love me. Maybe even some of them need me, just as I need them. Maybe I’ll find other misfits looking for their place. Besides, I cannot hypocritically rant and rave diatribes against the church for creating their own alternate reality and then myself hide away with only those who like me.
I want to love, truly love and accept people without holding rules or my expectations over their head.

25 September 2006

ACFW Conference

"You're funny." Yes. I'm in. With the cool group. I use the word cool loosely, as in gangs of New York.
So the "you're funny" guy and the nail polish girl are going to visit my blog. Lil ole me. Or at least they said they would. Tommy, can you hear me?
And now I have to be funny.
Good thing I took the "Art of Writing Comedy" class.
A priest walks into a bar. No, wait, a horse. Yes, it was definitely a horse. A horse walks into a bar, and the bartender says, "Why the long face?" Get it? Long face? Sigh.
Why do people sigh after they laugh?
The best thing about the ACFW conference was the orange ginger shampoo and lotion. Can I get a witness? Bam! That'll wake you up in the morning.
Just kidding.
In all seriousness, the best thing were the people that made a rookie feel accepted. Like Marilyn. I met Marilyn once when she offered to let me stay in her hotel room free of charge. And Jennifer. Jennifer saw me standing in the back of the main room biting my nails (well, I would have been biting my nails if I bite my nails, which I don't) with my eyes "biggish and whitish" from fright. She got up from her table, came back to me, and took me by the hand to a seat at her table.
Then there's the toad-lickin' warped crew. Finally, I found my family.

And meeting blogging buddies for the first time, like Michelle, Dineen, and Gina. Love it.
And getting encouragement to keep writing when I felt like blubbering my lips with my finger. Uh, which way did he go, George? Which way did he go?
And, drum roll please, I am an ACFW winner. Yes, folks, because I shot my hand up first at a late night chat, I won a free bottle of OPI nail polish. Thank you, thank you.
Today feels odd and normal. It feels odd because it is normal. Back to life, back to reality.

19 September 2006

A Short Story

Chad stepped onto the Metro and folded up his map. Every seat was occupied, so he grabbed a strap. The sent of body odor mixed with perfume. Chad learned not to crinkle his nose at this combination. The woman sitting across from Chad raised her arm to hold the bar. Tufts of hair escaped the sleeveless shirt at her armpit. A woman in a business suit delicately crossed her pantyhosed legs under her skirt in the next seat. The arm-hair woman probably came from one of the first stops, where some suburban homes kept donkeys and chickens in their backyards. Maybe she took the train from a small town outside of Prague. Dickens would have a field day with this earthy peasant and business city girl side by side.
“Prištne štanize, I.P. Pavlova,” the woman’s voice announced over the speakers in Czech. Chad looked at the map over the doors and counted how many stops until Muzeum, his stop. He knew the number by heart. An older man with a cane read in the seat next to him and a woman cooed a baby next to the old man. Chad leaned on his back leg as the Metro stopped. The brakes screeched, and people pored in and out, playing musical chairs. The Metro started again, and the woman made her announcement. Next stop. Chad prepared early to disembark.
“Muzeum,” the woman announced, and the Metro stopped, and the doors slid open. As Chad stepped over the gap, a man in a leather jacket brushed against him running with a baby in his arms. The woman sitting next to the old man screamed and ran after him, tripping over her bag. She crossed the door just as it began to close. The woman yelled a slew of Czech words, none of which Chad understood. But he understood panic and chased the man with the leather jacket and the baby. The crowd moved aside like a vaudeville line, pointing and murmuring. The man looked back as he reached the steps. Chad panted only two steps behind him. The man threw the baby high in the air to make his getaway and scuttled up the stairs.
Chad stretched his arms out. The baby bounced against his biceps, and he closed his forearms tightly. The mother bumped hard behind him. He laid the baby in her arms. Tears streamed down mother’s and baby’s faces.
“Thank you,” she cried, half bowing. “Thank you. Thank you.” She kissed her baby and sang softly, touching the baby’s face, then hugging the baby close. Mother and baby walked away safely and waited for the next Metro.
Chad watched her until she stepped onto the train, then walked up the stairs.
Wondering down Václavské náměstí, Chad observed the nationality of the tourists. After two weeks in Prague, he was beginning to understand why the Czechs easily picked him out as American. He chuckled and made his way to the Cream ‘N’ Dream ice cream shop this side of Charles Bridge. Trying to choose flavors, the woman and her baby and the man in the leather jacket melted away.
“Mint chocolate chip, please,” he said, thankful that most Czechs spoke fluent English. His hand pushed into his back pocket for his wallet, but his wallet was not there.

17 September 2006

Interview with Mary DeMuth

Today we get a glimpse of Mary DeMuth's new book, Wishing on Dandelions, the sequel to Watching the Tree Limbs (see review of book here). Here is the back cover copy:
God says I love you in many ways, some of which are hard to hear. Maranatha needs to hear God’s voice. At seventeen, Natha admittedly has some trust issues. Though the abuse by a neighbor boy has stopped, Natha is anything but healed. Now her best friend has left for college, the trials of dating have begun, and God, ever since he spoke to her underneath the pecan tree years ago, has remained elusive. So when brash Georgeanne Peach blows in to take over the only place that’s ever felt like home, leaving a trail of peach fabric swatches and cloying perfume, it’s easy to understand how something like a little ol’ tornado might not be a big deal. Like every teenager, Natha tries to sort out the confusing layers of love—of friends, of family, of suitors, and, desperately, of God. Natha struggles to find herself before she gives in to the shadow of a girl she used to be in this moving follow-up to the critically praised Watching the Tree Limbs.
I was able to interview Mary DeMuth about this new release.

What is your vision with this book? What inspired you to sit down and write this story?
Maranatha kept talking to me!!! She wanted her story to be told beyond her nine years. So when I started writing the book, I knew she'd be seventeen. I wanted to show how an abuse victim deals with life as an adolescent. And I wanted the reader to know she had grown up a bit. When I sat down to write the story, I had a picture in my head of Maranatha riding her bike down this long Farm to Market road away from Burl toward a burned out house. She was riding with a frenzy. You can read the first chapter of the book here.

How did you go about researching both the character and the setting for this series?
There's a little bit of Maranatha in me (I think all our characters have bits and pieces of us inside them), so I pulled from myself as well as watched other girls her age. The setting came from an experience my husband and I had in East Texas. We moved from Seattle to East Texas, where he was going to set up a department in a hospital. And it was a cross-cultural move for us. At my first church potluck, someone asked if my ham and bean soup was possum stew! Oh my! So, as a detached observer, I absorbed a lot of the culture of East Texas. That served me well when I decided to write the book.Anything special you would like to say about Wishing on Dandelions?It's a love story, on many levels. A love story with a romantic twist as well as a love story between Maranatha and God. I feel it's a better written book than Watching the Tree Limbs, and I pray its impact would be far-reaching.

Tell us a little about your publishing journey.
I've written since 1992, mostly in obscurity. I got my start writing a for-profit newsletter for several years, which branched into formatting and editing several church newsletters. After doing that about ten years, I started working toward real publication. I started selling articles here and there. I found a writing mentor. I attended conferences. I went to monthly critique groups. I became a newspaper columnist. All that happened within two years. Then I went to Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference after I'd completed my first novel. By God's surprise, I met the person who would eventually become my agent. I sold two parenting books (Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God, Building the Christian Family You Never Had) before selling my fiction. I still believe it's a bit miraculous that my fiction ever sold.

Has being published conquered writing insecurities or do you still struggle at times (if you struggled at all)?
It certainly does help. The thing that gave me the most confidence was reading the Publisher's Weekly review of my first novel-a starred review! I cried! Publisher's Weekly is the industry standard for recognizing good writing, so to hear them say lovely things about it made me realize that I actually am a writer and that there's something to this gift God has given me. I still have insecurities. Writing fiction is just plain hard. Selling it is even harder. I write edgy stuff, and publishers are a bit freaked out by me. So, I'm also venturing out to the ABA, hoping my books will reach a wider audience. I still get rejected all the time...

What is the hardest part about writing (or being a writer)?
The extra time it takes to become a marketer and a publicist. It takes so much time. And having three books out in one year nearly killed me! (Just kidding, but it was a LOT of work!)

What is your main piece of advice for aspiring writers?
BOC. Bottom on chair. Stick your hiney in the chair and write, write, write. You won't improve if you don't do the time.

What are your favorite books or authors?
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

14 September 2006

Review - Last Bite by Nancy Verde Barr

If you love food and the Italian American culture, you’ll like this book. It’s just plain fun. And it made me hungry.
Casey Costillo is the executive chef for a morning television show. In other words, she does all the behind scenes prep work for the 3 and ½ minute cooking slot. And the author loves to describe the foods Casey prepares. Hence, my hunger throughout the book. Casey is also Italian American, my favorite subculture.
Casey comes off of a messy break-up in the beginning of the book and is soon the recipient of some heavy whipping cream flirting from one of the guest talents of the morning show. He also happens to be the chef with whom everyone is in love. She faces whether or not to risk another relationship, especially with someone whom she suspects is a womanizer.
The book is down-to-earth and everyday. Down to earth, that is, except for the Russian mob subplot. But I won’t go into that. The author may have not given us a gourmet “the American novel,” but she has given us an engaging and entertaining book. In fact, I forgot the name of the main character. After all, I’m the main character. I loved going to Italy, by the way, Nancy, and living the life of a chef. Pick this up for a fast and fun vacation read.
With all of this food talk, I need some lunch.

13 September 2006

Writer's Block

All morning, nothing. I couldn't think of anything to say to you. My opinions on something? Nah. I've done that too much lately, and I'm opinioned out. Some fun vignette? Go nuttin. So here is my poem on writer's block (cue horror music).

a blank glaring computer screen smacks
of Writer’s Block
so i write something
feigning creativity
to find creativity
pretending diligence
to produce diligence

a mask, a ruse, a veneer
not quite the philosopher,
not quite the poet,
not quite the playwright
floundering in futility
feeling fake

rebelling to belong
or belonging by rebelling?
playing twenty questions
never victorious
always plaguing
who am i?

11 September 2006

The Vineyard

While we were in California, we visited the Firestone vineyard. (Yes, this is the same family that owns the tire, and yes, for those of you who followed The Bachelor, I learned that the single son is the Firestone bachelor. For any of you single gals out there, his bachelorette did not work out. He is still single.)
The vines may be 500 years old. The gnarled vines are as thick as small tree trunks, much thicker than I expected. They sustain life for thousands of grapes. The gardeners graft the grapes into these older and wiser vines. They prune the grapes so that the grapes do not sneak any vines to the earth and try to suckle life on their own. You see, on their own, the grapes cannot provide themselves with the nourishment they need. They need the nourishment to come from the old vines, the thick, hearty vines of 500 years so that the grapes may be succulent and juicy and sweet.
This is what makes a good grape.

Now if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among them and participated in the richness of the olive root, do not boast over the branches. But if you boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.
Romans 11:17-18

“I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He takes away every branch that does not bear fruit in me. He prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it will bear more fruit. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me – and I in him – bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing. John 15:1-5

08 September 2006

Review - Reconstructing Natalie by Laura Jenson Walker

Reconstructing Natalie by Laura Jenson Walker depicts a twenty-something’s struggle with cancer, especially poignant because of the author’s cancer history. The story shows Natalie’s heartache over losing her hair and her tennis match between hope and despair at the thought of death. She walks with old friends, family, and new cancer-surviving friends. She loses her boyfriend, her boobs, and new friends to death. This strife is balanced with trendy language and TV and actor references that make for a light read. In fact, the a la mode style may render the book irrelevant in a year or two, but the book is an encouragement for those living with cancer and it is insightful for those who have friends and family with cancer.
By the way guys, it is chicklit all the way.

06 September 2006

California Beaches

I love California. I was born to live in California. Too bad I don't live there now. My husband tells me that if we were to move there, it would be to a cardboard shack. I'm okay with that. When you have the ocean and mountains, what else matters? After a weekend wedding, we spent a couple of days with family on a mini vacation.
Drive up the Pacific Coast Highway with me for a moment. The ocean is on the left in constant motion, crashing and thrashing with dangerous and life-giving vitality. The mist plays peek-a-boo with ships, oil rigs, and islands. The mountains, crumpled up like a blanket on an unmade bed, are on the right. They loom with ancient wisdom but also threaten skittish rock slides at times. They protect like a stalwart from the world on the other side like that wizened and wrinkled grandfather whom you fear but also protrects his family. Surfers speckle the water and Malibu Barbie houses line the shore. Surprisingly, none of the beaches are crowded, even on a labor day weekend. I guess when you have hundreds of miles bordering the long side of a state, there is plenty of sand to go round. We pass organic markets and flower shops and furniture flea markets on the other side. Peak up the streets leading up to mountain villas to get a glimpse of the lives of princes and princesses in their castles. A carnival pops up in the middle of nowhere (where all carnivals pop up) with bright kid colors of teal, cotton candy, and sunshine.
Come now with me to Venice Beach. Shops of flowy clothes, Henna tattoos, piercings of all body parts, and T-shirts run up and down the walk way. Musicians in dreadlocks play, a break dancer with a drug recovery story gathers a crowd, and homeless people wander with their suitcases and shopping carts full of cans and bottles. A large umbrella sits against the grass advertising “Slum Art Skool” with a childlike drawing (and a promise of better quality drawings for donations). We cross over the grass onto the sand, run toward the water until our breaths can’t capture enough oxygen to keep our legs pumping against the sand. To our right, mountains float on the water. To our left, waves crash against the rock jetty. Only a few people are scattered on the sand. Tears build up in our eyes rolling up like the waves in front of us. The ocean expands further than we can imagine, seemingly untouched by the craziness and panics of human existence. The bums and the store owners and the hippie wannabees and the druggies and the tourists disappear behind us. Salt water washes up to our ankles, and our feet sink deeper in the sand. It’s just us and the ocean.